Transsternal thymectomy for myasthenia gravis: surgical outcome

Ann Thorac Surg. 2006 Jan;81(1):305-8. doi: 10.1016/j.athoracsur.2005.07.050.


Background: Transsternal thymectomy is well established in the treatment of myasthenia gravis. Surgical strategy and patient selection, however, remain controversial. This paper reports the experience of a supraregional center looking into the influence of different preoperative risk factors on surgical outcome.

Methods: Between 1987 and 1998, 85 consecutive patients (65 female; mean age, 30.5 years) were enrolled. The mean preoperative Myasthenia Gravis Foundation of America stage was 2.3. The preoperative, early, and late follow-up data were analyzed retrospectively.

Results: Mean follow-up was 4.5 years (range, 1 to 14; 376 follow-up years). Mean duration of disease before surgery was 31 months. There were no operative or late deaths. Eight patients had major complications. Seventy-two patients were free from any early or late morbidity. Immunosupression therapy patients were more prone to have complications. At their last visit, 15 patients (17%) were in complete remission; 67 reported clinical improvement. Sixty-three were asymptomatic or in stage I on no or minimal treatment. Remission and clinical improvement were not predicted by patient's age, sex, duration of disease prior to surgery, thymic pathology, or antiacetylcholine receptor antibodies titer. Greater severity of symptoms before surgery was associated with greater subsequent improvement. Remission at 1 year predicted remission at the end of follow-up.

Conclusions: Transsternal thymectomy for myasthenia gravis is safe and effective. It benefits most patients, especially those with severe symptoms. The long interval from diagnosis to surgery demonstrates it is never too late for thymectomy.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Child
  • Cholinesterase Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Hyperplasia
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Myasthenia Gravis / drug therapy
  • Myasthenia Gravis / etiology
  • Myasthenia Gravis / surgery*
  • Postoperative Complications / epidemiology
  • Remission Induction
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Sternum / surgery*
  • Thymectomy / methods*
  • Thymoma / complications
  • Thymoma / surgery*
  • Thymus Gland / pathology
  • Thymus Gland / surgery
  • Thymus Neoplasms / complications
  • Thymus Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Cholinesterase Inhibitors
  • Immunosuppressive Agents